Wednesday, September 28, 2016

2016 Seibu Lions Weekly Digest: Kishi wins last game, Fighters clinch pennant to end the season


The Saitama Seibu Lions had one short homestand to end the 2016 season. Worst yet, the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters entered with a chance to celebrate a pennant, something the Lions saw last year with the Softbank Hawks in Fukuoka.

===

The first game involved Mitsuo Yoshikawa and Takayuki Kishi. To start the game, Yoshikawa would hit Shogo Akiyama with early jitters. He then gave up a two-run home run immediately to Shuta Tonosaki, his second in as many games and the third of his career.

Kishi retired the first 11 batters he faced and it wasn't until a throwing error from Tonosaki where the Fighters got their first base runner. Daikan Yoh's speed rushed a throw from third base to secure him being safe.  Kishi allowed his first base hit in the 5th inning when Hiromi Oka hit a clean single to centerfield.

Yoshikawa appeared to have settled in, but he allowed a solo home run to Ginjiro Sumitani in the bottom of the 5th for an insurance run.

The first threat for the Fighters would be right when the third time through the lineup would strike in the 6th. Kishi gave up two base hits with one out. Yoh would flyout and Kishi got Sho Nakata to strikeout and end the chance.

A leadoff walk gave the Fighters life in the 7th and Shohei Otani doubled for a two out chance. Passing 100 pitches, Kishi would paint the inside corner and get Takuya Nakashima to strikeout for his 7th of the game and the Houdini.

Kazuhisa Makita had a clean 8th inning and Tatsushi Masuda got a double play to end the game. The Lions would put the Fighters' pennant clinching party on hold for one night as the Hawks would defeat the Marines.

Lions 3, Fighters 0

Game notes:

-Shuta Tonosaki started at 3B for the second straight game.

-The Lions deactivated Shinsaburo Tawata and Yuji Kaneko. As a result of Kaneko gone, his season would end as he suffered a recent groin injury. They brought up Masato Kumashiro in his place and he came in as a late inning substitution.

===

For the season finale, it would be the battle of pitchers from Hanamaki Higashi high school in Shohei Otani and Yusei Kikuchi. There was no scoring for three innings, until Brandon Laird hit a solo home run in the fourth inning.

It would be all about Otani for the night, where he would strikeout 15 batters and allowed only one hit to Tomoya Mori in the 5th inning. Tatsuyuki Uemoto would pinch hit and have the Lions's only walk. By going the distance, Otani secured the pennant for the Fighters and the team celebrated in Seibu Dome.

Fighters 1, Lions 0

Game notes:

-Atsushi Okamoto announced his retirement and was given one final batter to face. He struck out Shota Ono in the 7th inning.

-This is the fourth time in the last six years the Lions have had to see a pennant clinching party in front of their eyes. Previously they saw the Hawks celebrate in 2011 and 2015, while the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles partied in 2013.

===

The season was over as early as the end of June. Despite the sour note to end the year, there was progress we saw. Plenty of pitchers the Lions couldn't beat in 2015, were defeated in 2016. This list includes Rick van den Hurk, Shota Takeda, Ayumu Ishikawa and even Otani himself.

While the Lions are now done for the year, we thank everyone who has been a loyal reader throughout the season. Our content will not go away and we will have a special podcast to discuss the playoffs.

There is also preparation for the draft and other offseason moves where it should remain interesting.

===

Follow us on Twitter @GraveyardBall

Sunday, September 25, 2016

2016 Seibu Lions Weekly Digest: Wolfe finishes the season undefeated


In what would be the final road trip, the Saitama Seibu Lions were aiming to secure being out of the Pacific League cellar with three games against the Orix Buffaloes. They also faced a Fukuoka Softbank Hawks team coming off a bad front end of the week.

===

The first game against the Orix Buffaloes saw a small crowd due to a typhoon hitting the Kansai area. It was the only NPB game of the night featuring Ryoma Nogami against Daiki Aoyama, making his ichi-gun debut. Aoyama was a fourth round draft pick of the Buffaloes in October.

Aoyama looked like he would get out of a first inning jam with two outs and a full count to Ernesto Mejia. However, Mejia took one to left field for a three-run home run to open the scoring.

The Lions got another run through sacrifice fly by Hideto Asamura as Shogo Akiyama was on second. Shuhei Kojima made a great catch in centerfield, but fell which helped advance Akiyama to third. Yoshio Itoi would drop the ball on the exchange and Akiyama would turn up the jets to score.

Orix would get a run back off a wild pitch in the fourth inning by Nogami. However, the Lions responded with consecutive hits from Akiyama, Asamura and Mejia to deliver a timely hit and it was a four run lead again.

Nogami would put in a quality start, going six innings with four strikeouts, two walks and one earned run for the game. It was his first start in nearly two months.

After Shota Takekuma cruised through the 7th inning, the Lions broke it open in the 8th. Hotaka Yamakawa would take an opposite field home run for his 13th of the year to add one run. With two outs, Hideto Asamura crushed his 21st HR of the season for a three-run HR.

To put the exclamation point on the game, Yamakawa hit his second home run to the upper deck for his 14th of the season. He would earn the hero interview after Tatsuya Oishi and Hirotaka Koishi had scoreless frames.

Lions 11, Buffaloes 1

Game note:

-Naoaki Matsumoto was the corresponding move to make room for Nogami.

===

Game 2 would feature Takayuki Kishi vs. Takahiro Matsuba, a nemesis who had the Lions number in 2016. Kishi struggled out of the gate through the first three innings, giving up multiple base runners. Masataka Yoshida plated the first run with a double down the right field line. Orix got a second run with two consecutive sacrifice fly balls to score Yoshio Itoi from second.

The Lions got a run back with two 2-out hits. Tomoya Mori doubled and Yamakawa plated him with a roped single. It wouldn't be until the top of the 7th where the game would be tied. Yamakawa and Nien Ting Wu mustered up two singles and Tatsuyuki Uemoto would get a pinch hit single to make it 2-2.

Unfortunately he was caught stealing second base on what could have been a failed hit and run. Yuji Kaneko struck out and the game remained tied. Kishi was left in for the 7th inning after being shaky the entire night. He would get a 1-2-3 frame and earn a no decision despite allowing several base runners.

Matsuba was nearly dominant through seven innings, but the final frame prevent him from getting a win.  After Kazumasa Yoshida pitched a clean inning, things would fall in the 8th.

Kazuhisa Makita hit both Takahiro Okada and Hiroyuki Nakajima, which started a confrontation. He then allowed a single to load the bases. After striking out Kojima, Shunta Goto made a pinch hit appearance and he would make no mistake on a full count. After battling from 1-2, he took a single to right field and two runs would score. Wu would be unable to field a grounder and a third run scored in the frame.

Yoshihisa Hirano would close out the game and the Lions bats would remain cold once Uemoto was caught stealing. One final game would settle the head to head record.

Buffaloes 5, Lions 2

===

For the final game in Osaka, Brian Wolfe would take on Chihiro Kaneko. Naoto Watanabe opened the scoring by beating out a double play with runners on the corners in the top of the second for a 1-0 lead.

Orix got the run back with a solo home run by Hikaru Ito in the bottom of the 3rd. The Lions responded in the top of the fourth with consecutive hits off C. Kaneko. A single from Mori, double by Kuriyama and single from Watanabe plated two runs in. C. Kaneko would then throw a wild pitch to advance Watanabe and Wu would hit a sac fly to score him.

Wolfe would last 6.1 innings with minimal strikeouts. Once again, he remained deceptive to get his house and even escaped some jams. In the top of the 7th, he allowed a two-run home run to Hiroyuki Nakajima making it 5-3 and it ended his night.

Shota Takekuma closed the 7th with two quick outs while Makita and Masuda would have clean 8th and 9th innings to secure the win and series.

Lions 5, Buffaloes 3

Game note:

-Nogami was deactivated to make room for Wolfe, ending his 2016 ichi-gun season.

-The Lions finished with a 13-12 record against Orix head to head. They were 15-10 against them in 2015.

-Wolfe finished the season with a 4-0 record and had three quality starts in his short time with the Lions. Most likely, he will be on pace to return in 2017.

===

The first game against the Hawks featured Yusei Kikuchi facing Nao Higashihama. It would be Kikuchi's only matchup against the Hawks for 2016. Kenta Imamiya drew first blood with a two-run home run in the top of the 3rd inning.

The top of the 4th was more pain for Kikuchi, as he struggled with control walking multiple batters. Softbank made him pay with a single from Toru Hosokawa and a double from Imamiya making it 5-0. Softbank scored three more runs in the top of the 7th which included a gapper from Yuya Hasegawa to put the icing on the cake.

There were chances for the Lions early on, including a bases loaded situation in the first, but they couldn't punch in any runs on the board. Higashihama would pitch six scoreless frames with the Hawks bullpen taking the final three innings.

Hawks 8, Lions 0

Game note:

-Yuji Kaneko would steal second base, making him tied with Yoshio Itoi at 53 stolen bases for the 2016 season at the time of this game.

===

Game 2 would feature "Makoto" Aiuchi vs Kenichi Nakata. It would be the second spot start of the season for Makoto. He would get into some early jams, but limited the damage in the second as the Lions conceded a run to get a 5-4-3 double play for the game's opening run.

Seibu squandered multiple opportunities including two runners on base in the first inning. Ernesto Mejia would ground into a double play to end the threat.

The Hawks threatened constantly on Makoto, but wouldn't score more until the 5th inning. Makoto would walk the first two batters and his day would be over. Koishi would come in to try and clean it up, but fail in the process. After both runners were bunted over, a sacrifice fly from Akira Nakamura would bring home one run. Seiichi Uchikawa then blasted a single with two outs to score the other, making it a tough 3-0 lead.

Softbank added a fourth run in the top of the 7th off Shota Takekuma. Imamiya would continue to be a pest, with a one out triple and A. Nakamura would bring him home with a base hit. The Lions had some life in the bottom of the 7th, where two runs would score on ground balls, including an error by Nobuhiro Matsuda. Tatsuyuki Uemoto would pinch hit and get another one past the infield for a second run.  Unfortunately, Shogo Akiyama was the go-ahead run at the plate and he would strikeout.

The Lions knocked on the door again in the 8th as Asamura hit his 23rd home run of the season off Roberto Suarez to bring the team within one run. Mejia then got an infield single, but Takeya "Okawari-kun Nakamura would ground into the backbreaking 5-4-3 double play to end the inning.

For the bottom of the 9th, Dennis Sarfate came in to make it a near impossible task to tie the game. Yamakawa would get a bloop single to keep the team alive with two outs. Fumikazu Kimura would then pinch run and steal second base, giving pinch hitter Naoto Watanabe a chance. Unfortunately, Watanabe flew out to left field and ended the game

Hawks 4, Lions 3

Game note:

-Yuji Kaneko sat out of the game for some reason. It was thought that he could be utilized as a pinch runner.

===

For Game 3. Shinsaburo Tawata would look to prevent a sweep in the final game against the Hawks by facing Rick van den Hurk. Shuta Tonosaki, being called up for the first time in months, would hit a three-run home run in the second inning for his first of the season and the second of his career.

In the bottom of the 4th, the Lions would get two runners on for the bottom of the order. Ryo Sakata hit a double to the right field gap, plating both runs and giving the Lions a 5-0 lead.

Tawata looked good through four innings, but struggled in the 5th with multiple walks. He walked in two runs and another scored on an infield single. Ryohei Fujiwara would enter the game and get a groundout to keep the lead. Asamura hit a solo home run in the bottom of the frame to get a run back.

The Hawks just wouldn't go away as Shuhei Fukuda had a two-out single in the top of the 6th off Fujiwara. Neither team knew what a shutdown inning was, as Sakata added an RBI double to make it a three-run lead again. Tomoaki Egawa made it a two-run game with a solo home run off Shota Takekuma in the top of the 8th.

Tatsushi Masuda closed it out after giving up a leadoff single to Imamiya and the Lions won the final game vs the Hawks. It was ugly, but the bullpen carried them in the second half of it all.

Lions 7, Hawks 5

Game notes:

-Tonosaki and Fujiwara were activated in place of Makto Aiuchi and Daichi Mizuguchi.

-The Lions finished with a 9-15-1 record against the Hawks head-to-head. They were 6-5-1 on the road, but only 3-10 at home. It was the first and only non-sayonara home win against the Hawks in 2016.

===

The season will be over shortly, but the Lions have given up some hope even with this share of .500 weeks, there is promise ahead. Pitching might have ended on a sour note for guys like Tawata and Kikuchi, but the hitting at least has been fun to watch.

Most importantly, this Lions team will not be compared to 1979, the last time they finished in 6th (dead last) of the Pacific League. We're thankful they had some respectable baseball to end the year.

The Fighters are most likely to celebrate a pennant title in Seibu Dome, but like anything, the schedule just doesn't work in their favor.

===

Follow us on Twitter @GraveyardBall

Monday, September 19, 2016

2016 Seibu Lions Weekly Digest: Kishi and Tawata shine in winning week


For a week that was shortened due to no makeup games, the Lions had an unusual week and started a stretch of nine consecutive games.  One lone outing against the Chiba Lotte Marines as well as a three game wrap around series vs the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles.

===

In the lone midweek game against the Marines, Takayuki Kishi would face Jason Standridge. It would live up to the hype of a pitcher's duel, where the only run scored came in the 5th inning on a single from Nien Ting Wu. Hotaka Yamakawa was tagged out at the plate on another single.

The Marines had a chance in the 7th inning, but Hideto Asamura robbed Kazuya Fukuura of a hit with a diving stop and Naoto Watanabe was able to stay on the bag. Kishi looked like he was cruising, with 8 scoreless innings. However, Katsuya Kakunaka took a pitch deep as the first batter of the 9th inning to tie it all up.

Kishi would irrationally pitch the 10th inning and had his own scare with a runner on second after a bunt. He had to get Ryuzo Hijii to flyout and after a walk to Takashi Ogino, the pressure was on knowing he had the ace treatment. Yoshifumi would lineout to second base and end the threat, bringing the game to 11 innings

Asamura, already making a play with his glove, did it with his bat in the 11th with a solo home run that went opposite field. Even he wasn't sure it was gone and had to see an umpire signal for it to be out as it bounced back into the turf. Tatsushi Masuda closed the game in 1-2-3 fashion, where it ended on a clean groundout requiring great fielding from Asamura.

This was the final game of the season between both teams. As a result, both Oendans made an exchange after the game singing each other's songs.

Lions 2, Marines 1 (11 innings)

Game note

-Hirotaka Koishi was activated for Yasuo Sano.

-Kishi reached the milestone of 1,500 career innings pitched in NPB.

===

For the first game against the Eagles, Takahiro Norimoto would take on Yusei Kikuchi. The game lived up to the hype of a pitcher's duel, where runs would be minimal.

The Lions scored in the third inning with an improbable sequence. With two outs, Kaneko singled and stole second base. He would later advance to 3rd on a wild pitch. Shogo Akiyama then hit a comebacker off Norimoto's mitt and Eigoro Mogi couldn't field it cleanly, making Kaneko score from third base.

Another run came out of nowhere with two outs again in the 4th. Tomoya Mori singled and Takumi Kuriyama brought him home with a gapper down the right field line. In the 5th inning, Kikuchi's control faded and he loaded the bases. However, he would escape as Kazuo Matsui flied out to second base and end the threat.

The Lions added a third run as Kaneko was on third base. Okawari-kun would barely scoot a ball through the infield where Mogi didn't have a play on anyone, scoring Kaneko again.  In the 6th inning, Kikuchi would walk another batter and leave the game in the middle of a 1-2 count on Zelous Wheeler, citing a possible blister problem.

Tatsuya Oishi came in with no outs, but got Wheeler to flyout. Toshiaki Imae would also flyout while Mogi walked. Hiroaki Shimauchi would then groundout, creating the ultimate Houdini for Oishi as it saved the game.

Shota Takekuma allowed a leadoff double in the 7th, but didn't allow anything else. Kazuhisa Makita gave up a solo home run to Carlos Peguero in the 8th inning to make it a 3-1 game. Masuda took the 9th inning and shut the door without any drama. It would be the Lions' second win in a row.

Lions 3, Eagles 1

Game note:

-Kaneko had three stolen bases on the night. He was caught stealing third base after a successful trip to second base. It's possible he was trying to pad his numbers and chase Yoshio Itoi's currently league leading record for the season. He reached the 50 stolen base mark.

===

The second game against the Eagles would feature two young pitchers in Tomohiro Anraku and Keisuke Honda. This would be Honda's first career ichi-gun start and second appearance.

Honda struggled out of the gate and couldn't strike anyone out. Zelous Wheeler would score on a sacrifice fly from Shimauchi for the first run. With Mogi beating a double play, the inning would continue and Kazuya Fujita singled as well. Yuichi Adachi would double the lead with a single past the infield.

For Honda, he would only last 2.2 innings, giving up two more runs in the third. They would come from a double by "Ginji" Akaminai and single from Mogi making it 4-0.

The Lions bats were mostly cold, only mustering up a chance with runners on the corners and two outs, but Hotaka Yamakawa struck out against Anraku. Ginji added another run in the 5th inning to make it 5-0.

Felix Perez would break the game open with a three-run home run off Kona Takahashi. The Lions and Eagles traded runs in the late innings, but it was already over before it started.

Anraku would pick up his second win of the season and third in his career. He would go 8 innings and record five strikeouts.

Eagles 10, Lions 2

Game note:

-Naoaki Matsumoto would pitch two innings of low relief.

-This game featured a total of four players from the 2015 Seibu Lions draft class. Wu and Honda started while Matsumoto and Shogo Noda appeared out of the bullpen.

-Honda was deactivated to make room for Shinsaburo Tawata. The deactivation ended his ichi-gun season.

===

The rubber match against the Eagles featured Wataru Karashima vs Shinsaburo Tawata. After an initial slow start in the first inning from Tawata, he would escape with runners on the corners situation with a groundout.

Seibu's bats looked cold initially, but came alive in the bottom of the 3rd. Yamakawa would single and Yuji Kaneko snuck one past the infield to create a chance. Akiyama's bloop single fell for the first run of the game. Karashima would then struggle, walking three consecutive batters in Asamura, Okawari-kun and Mejia to send in two more runs. Mori put on the exclamation point with a two-run single as the bases were still loaded.

Tawata was solid for seven innings, but the 7th was a scary one. He gave up an inside the park home run to Mogi as Yuji Kaneko couldn't play the fly ball off the wall, bouncing away to centerfield. A barrage of three consecutive hits would allow another run, but a sliding catch from Takumi Kuriyama limited the damage overall.

Norio Tanabe would irrationally leave Tawata in for the 8th inning and he gave up two singles. However, with two outs, he would strikeout Mogi to end the threat in what was a scary frame.

Masuda took the 9th with no fanfare to seal the series and a win.

Lions 5, Eagles 2

Game note:

-Mori would start at catcher for the entire series.

===

The Lions played some respectable baseball for the week minus one goose egg. Lots of what could've been for the season, irrationally leaving the pitcher in and Kaneko attempting the 2016 stolen base king accomplishment (he trail Yoshio Itoi of the Orix Buffaloes).

The series in Osaka against Orix will determine if the Lions can pull away from the Pacific League cellar for good or not.  Can they do it? It's a nine game stretch with some spot starters inbetween.

===

Follow us on Twitter @GraveyardBall

Monday, September 12, 2016

Seibu Lions managerial candidates for 2017

Koji Akiyama (right) was viewed as a top candidate for the Lions manager role. He threw the first pitch at a game for the Uni-President 7-11 Lions of Taiwan. Here he is pictured with former Seibu Lions teammate and current Uni Lions manager Taigen Kaku (Tai-yuan Kuo)
The Saitama Seibu Lions will have a new manager for 2017. There is only one question: Who is it? For a long time, we've been speculating one man to take the position, but the possibilities become endless (almost).

We can only guess and look at this logically. There are three known candidates and a few others we can just throw out for fun. Here is a list showing pros and cons of each well-known candidate, as well as a few people who are available.

LINKED:

The Lions have been linked to three names, one since as early as last fall. It has been known they've talked to these candidates and are considering them.

Shinya Miyamoto: Miyamoto was linked as early as when the news broke that Norio Tanabe would not return earlier this month. The Lions have apparently offered him the position, according to one report. Miyamoto is remembered as an infielder for the Swallows from 1995-2013 with no prior connection to the Lions.

Pros: He brings a fresh face among managers. He was a long time player and is young enough to relate to the current players on the Lions. As a former infielder, the Lions need help at shortstop and it's possible he can fix that area. He would also buck the trend of Lions managerial hires, as they haven't hired someone away from the organization since 1982.

Cons: Miyamoto has as much coaching as experience as almost every reader of his blog combined. Zero. He has been an in-game commentator on NHK since retiring as a player and has mostly been an observer of the game. He would be "green" with no prior experience, similar to how Tomoaki Kanemoto of the Hanshin Tigers is learning about now.

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Tetsuya Shiozaki: Shiozaki has been lined up for as early as the end of 2013. When Hisanobu Watanabe (Nabe-Q) resigned after the season, Shiozaki was expected to be the successor. General Manager Haruhiko Suzuki refused to go that route and hired Haruki Ihara instead with Shiozaki managing the ni-gun team. Recently, he was promoted to the equivalent of bench coach at the start of 2016, expected to be the heir to Tanabe.

Pros: He has vast knowledge of the Lions not only as a player, but working within the organization since 2007 in various roles. As a former ni-gun manager, he also knows most of the farm team minus the 2015 draft class having a first hand look at them. The Lions are traditionally known to promote from within and he would also continue the tradition. He has been well-groomed for this moment having the first-hand look of watching and learning under Tanabe for the 2016 season.

Cons: Some could view this as chalk, or boring. Majority of the media and fans have speculated that he would be the manager since Tanabe was given a contract for the 2016 season. Putting 2+2 together with that promotion has already been a sign. Another is how much camera time Shiozaki has received from TV Asahi and another networks broadcasting Lions games, almost as much as Tanabe.

===

Koji Akiyama: Koji Akiyama hasn't managed a game since the 2014 Japan Series ended. A longtime player and Hall of Famer, Akiyama was traded by the Lions to the then-Fukuoka Daiei Hawks after the 1993 season and hasn't been employed by them ever since. After retiring as a player, he would coach and later manage the Hawks, eventually winning a Japan Series title twice. The Lions admitted that they talked to him, but Akiyama himself has kept things quiet.

Pros: This would be a classic "Mom, I'm coming home" moment if he were to come to the Lions, the team he started his career with. He has already been a winner as a manger before, bringing an old school mentality for someone who is only in his 50s. There would be energy in the longtime Lions fans if he came back.

Cons: Can't teach an old dog new tricks. A manager often peaks in relating to his players right at age 50 and it's possible he'd bring a style and culture that can't relate to the current Lions players. Maybe the Softbank Hawks he inherited were too talented and his chances of succeeding with less talent in Tokorozawa shows he could be a fraud behind a loaded team?

===

Hatsuhiko Tsuji: Tsuji has been the strategy and defense coach for the Chunichi Dragons since 2014. He also served a stint with them from 2004-2011. As a player, he was the Lions' 2B from the Golden Era. After retirement, he went straight into coaching where he also served with the Tokyo Yakult Swallows and Yokohama DeNA Baystars. His name has been rumored since 9/22.

Pros: Tsuji could help the infield defense right away, where the Lions led the league in errors. He's been well-equipped and traveled as a coach and could be ready to be a skipper. Some excitement could come as Tsuji would return to the team where his baseball career started.

Cons: Like Akiyama above, Tsuji would be the oldest of the four linked candidates listed. At age 57, he would have his first managing job if hired. This could be a boring hire as Tsuji worked for what is expected to be a last place Dragons team. Chunichi also bunted the most among Central League teams, it would be a red flag for us as we here at Graveyard Baseball do not want to see a team that just bunts like it's an automatic thought.

===

THROWING A NAME OUT

This list is just throwing a name out of the hat because these men are available. Consider this a "just for fun" list with a 1% chance of any of these guys actually being hired.

===

Motonobu Tanishige: Tanishige was recently axed by the Chunichi Dragons in August in the middle of his third season as the skipper. Previously he was a player-manager, but didn't get to finish his first season as a full-time manager.

Tatsunori Hara: Tatsunori Hara was a legendary Yomiuri Giants player and later manager for the team. He stepped down after the 2015 Climax Series on his own will, most likely because of the toll a manager job can take.

Hisanori Yokota: Yokota is currently the Lions farm team manager after previously being the team's pitching coach at the ichi-gun level. He could be an alternate if Shiozaki doesn't want the job.

Hiromoto "Dave" Okubo: Okubo was a manager for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles in 2015 and also spent time as a farm manager for them previously. He was also a coach for the Lions in 2008 and played for them as a catcher for 8 seasons.

Hiroshi Moriwaki: Moriwaki was the Orix Buffaloes manager from 2013-2015. He was given the axe after a poor three months in 2015 and hasn't been employed in baseball since. Moriwaki led the Buffaloes to only their second postseason appearance in 2014 as Orix Buffaloes.

===

Outlook

We expect Shinya Miyamoto or Tetsuya Shiozaki to be the manager of the Lions for 2017. Akiyama would be a long shot, considering he entered retirement two years ago. Shiozaki would be the ultimate fall back option if they don't like anyone else available. In a perfect world, Akiyama would be the most interesting considering the stories he would draw returning to baseball, let alone the team that he began his career with.

In our Lions OenDEN podcast episode, we discussed the situation at the 18:00 mark. It was a lame duck year from the start and the Lions are eating the mistake of hiring Ihara in 2014 which has carried over to today.

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Follow us on Twitter @GraveyardBall

Sunday, September 11, 2016

2016 Seibu Lions Weekly Digest: No Mejia, no problem


Ernesto Mejia would leave the team for most of the week with the birth of his son. However, the Lions bats had no issues for the week against the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, Chiba Lotte Marines and Softbank Hawks.

===

In Game 1 against Rakuten, it was initially scheduled to be Takayuki Kishi. However, Kishi had a fever and Kona Takahashi was named the starter instead. He would face Yasunori Kikuchi for the night.

The Lions scored first with a solo home run by Ryo Sakata in the second inning. They would follow up with an RBI double by Nien Ting Wu to make it 2-0.

Takahashi had some early struggles but appeared to have settled in during the third inning where it was clean. However, the fourth was where he control faded with a HBP and a walk. With the bases loaded, Carlos Peguero would single and plate two runs.

Hideto Asamura would put the Lions on top in the 5th with an RBI single, but Takahashi allowed a backbreaker in the bottom half. With two outs and what appeared to be an easy inning, Eigoro Mogi took a home run to right field and tied the game again.

The 6th inning had drama on both sides as Koji Aoyama gave up a gapper to Tomoya Mori and it appeared that Wu would score from first. However, a perfect relay from Peguero and Kazuya Fujita would gun him down at the plate. Ryohei Fujiwara had his own jam in the 6th with the bases loaded. On a full count to Motohiro Shima, he struck him out on a 12-6 curve down the middle and froze the batter.

Hiroyuki Fukuyama would then be vulnerable with a leadoff walk to Yuji Kaneko. He then balked after a stolen base attempt from Kaneko to move the runner to second. Toshiaki Imae then bobbled the ball on a grounder to third base and runners were on the corners. Sakata picked up a timely hit once again and the Lions went up.

The bottom of the frame is where it all fell apart. Shota Takekuma gave up a leadoff single to Hiroaki Shimauchi and the Lions defense couldn't throw runners out on two bunt attempts. Mori, taking over at catcher bounced his throw to first base and Mogi was on with a bunt single. When Imae bunted, Takekuma went to third base and Shimauchi was called safe when he appeared to be out.

Kazuhisa Makita came in and had two quick outs. However, Taishi Nakagawa would get the clutch hit and plate two runs with a single. Felix Perez then doubled with the outfield playing in and scored two more.

Kam Mickolio worked the 8th inning with no drama. Yuki Matsui took the 9th and made it interesting with two outs and two runners on base. Sakata struck out and the game was over.

The Lions bats just couldn't break the game open as it was always within reach. There were guys on base, but not enough scored.

Eagles 7, Lions 4

Game notes:

-This win would be Masataka Nashida's 700th career victory in NPB. Prior to Rakuten, he managed the Kintetsu Buffaloes and Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters.

-With Mejia gone for the week, Takumi Kuriyama was the designated hitter and Ryo Sakata moved to right field.

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Game 2 was a makeup game from May 10 and it featured Shinsaburo Tawata vs. Takahiro Shiomi. Tawata had an initial jam in the first inning with two on and one out. He would strike out Zelous Wheeler and Peguero to keep the Eagles off the board.

Offense would become crooked as the Lions batted around in the top of the 4th. Asamura hit a two-run home run and Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura followed up with a solo home run. After Mori and Fumikazu Kimura singled, Nien Ting Wu would hit a triple to plate two more runs. Yuji Kaneko would get in on the action with a single and six would score in the frame.

Tawata had to get out of another jam for a shutdown inning. With two on and nobody out, he would strike out Peguero, Nakagawa and Perez for scoreless frame.

The Lions then hit two solo home runs in the top of the 5th, a second from Okawari-kun and one from Mori to make it 8-0. To put on the exclamation point, Hotaka Yamakawa would hit a grand slam in the top of the 6th and a two-RBI single in the top of the 8th for six RBIs.

Tawata would go the distance, but was denied the shutout with a solo home run in the 7th inning by Peguero. He finished the game with 15 strikeouts, including a punchout 9th inning. It was his second career complete game with only one walk, spreading out six hits.

Lions 14, Eagles 1

Game notes:

-Every Lions player had at least one hit, including Daichi Mizuguchi, who came in as a sub during the 7th inning.

-Akiyama, Mori, Yamakawa and Wu had Modashos.

-Kuriyama had the day off with Sakata as the designated hitter and Fumikazu Kimura in left field.

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Game 2 against the Marines featured Ryota Sekiya up against Yusei Kikuchi. It was an early jam for Kikuchi in the first inning. However, he would get Ogino to be tagged out trying to advance home while a 6-4-3 double play from Alfredo Despaigne ended the threat in the 1st.

Hotaka Yamakawa opened the scoring with a two-out, two run home run in the bottom of the 2nd. The Marines got a run back on a sacrifice fly from Kakunaka, but Shota Omine was caught trying to advance to second base on the play.

The Lions would explode in the bottom of the 5th. With two outs, there would be timely hits from all three Osaka Toin guys consecutively in Asamura, Okawari-kun and Mori to make it 6-2. Fumikazu Kimura added two more runs with an RBI single in the bottom of the 7th to put the exclamation point on it all.

Kikuchi would get a complete game, but only had four strikeouts on the night. He had five double plays in all, including a few from some silly base running blunders by the Marines to help him out. He wasn't as dominant as Tawata's outing in Sendai earlier this week, but still good enough to win.

Lions 8, Marines 1

Game note:

-The Lions deactivated Kuo and Ryohei Fujiwara for rookies Naoaki Matsumoto and Keisuke Honda. Fujiwara was injured last game and taken off for safety reasons.

-Yamakawa's home run was his 10th of the year. It was his 6th against the Marines.

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Game 1 in Fukuoka against the Hawks would feature Brian Wolfe against Kodai Senga.  The Lions would get the scoring start with a two-out double by Okawari-kun off the right field wall, plating Akiyama from first. Yamakawa followed up with a solo home run in the second inning.

The Hawks would get a run back from a solo home run by Shuhei Fukuda in the bottom of the third. However, Ginjiro Sumitani would get a timely double into the gap, plating two runs in the following frame. Takumi Kuriyama would get a timely two-out hit to make it 5-1.

Wolfe was mostly putting the ball in play like his last two outings. He was efficient to begin with, giving up some hits, but spreading them out. He didn't get his first strikeout until the 5th, but had two in the 6th inning. The Hawks got a run back in the 6th through a base hit by Yuya Hasegawa, but he was thrown out trying to advance on a throw to home plate and the damage was limited.

Shota Takekuma took the 7th inning and created a scare after a double play. He allowed a total of three base runners, but Norio Tanabe put in Tatsuya Oishi to get Seiichi Uchikawa out. The plan worked to perfection with Oishi striking out Uchikawa and ending the threat with two runners on.

Kazuhisa Makita took the 8th inning while the top of the 9th provided insurance. Okawari-kun hit a two-run home run deep into right field, which would set a franchise record for home runs. Shogo Noda then pitched a clean 9th inning to shut the door.

Wolfe got the just done in an ugly fashion, but the bats finally unloaded on Senga after losing to him most of the time in 2016.

Lions 7, Hawks 2

Game note:

-Okawari-kun's home run was the 330th of his career, he surpassed Kazuhiro Kiyohara's franchise record for career home runs in a Seibu Lions uniform.

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Game 2 had Tadashi Settsu take on Yasuo Sano in a spot start. The Lions botched an early chance with two on and one out. Okawari-kun and Mejia would strike out consecutively to end the threat.

The Hawks drew first blood in the bottom of the 2nd with a share of two out hits. Hiroaki Takaya got a single up the middle to bring home the first run. The bottom of the 3rd had Sano lose control and walk the first two batters. Nobuhiro Matsuda singled in the first run of the inning.

Sano's day would be done after only one out. Naoaki Matsumoto would then come in, making his ichi-gun debut. He allowed a sacrifice fly to Yuki Yoshimura. After a walk to Barbaro Canizares, Tomoaki Egawa plated the other inherited runner to make it 4-0.

The Lions answered with a two-run home run by Mejia in his first game back. Unfortunately, Kona Takahashi struggled with control in the bottom of the frame and gave up a two-out RBI single to Uchikawa.

Fukuoka conceded a run on an RBI groundout as Yuji Kaneko stole his second base of the game, but it wasn't enough. Takahashi struggled in the bottom of the 6th with control, like Sano. Uchikawa made him pay with a three run home run to break the game open. Yamakawa and Mori would hit consolation home runs to end the scoring.

It was a game of bad pitching, but a spot start is bound to have that. Bats had chances, but couldn't score on every opportunity. Takahashi's poor second half continues as it was for the final game in Fukuoka in 2016.

Hawks 8, Lions 5

Game note:

-Wolfe was deactivated for Sano with the extended break.

-Keisuke Honda and Matsumoto made their 2016 ichi-gun debuts.

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The season has long been over, but it's nice to see them continue to play respectable baseball for the time being. Hopefully Kishi isn't sick and the Lions can avoid the cellar. They will play only one game in the middle of next week at QVC Marine Field.

As a result of the irregular week ahead, the next weekly digest will not come until after Monday, Tuesday at the earliest.

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Thursday, September 8, 2016

Hideto Asamura wins Pacific League MVP for August


Hideto Asamura had a strong month of August. He was rewarded by winning the Pacific League hitting MVP for the month as a result.

He didn't have the highest batting average, but Asamura's 14 doubles and 26 RBIs might have been what stood out. You can see a video of all 14 doubles here.

Asamura is only the second Lions player to earn monthly honors in 2016. Ernesto Mejia was the Pacific League's hitting MVP for April earlier this season. Last year, there were four times the Lions earned these awards. Shogo Akiyama had it twice, Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura once and Kona Takahashi earned it among the pitchers.

After having a slow April to the 2016 season, Asamura has been nearly automatic with his bat as the Lions starting 2B. He is approaching 20 home runs and could have a career high in doubles. He is hitting .300 and the slugging average is nearly at the .500 range.

It's been a strong season after having two good half seasons with the Lions in 2014 and 2015. The 2016 season for the Lions will be over soon, but he is a key piece that could be built around. Last year, we considered him for part of the team's Core-4 and this season, he's made a case for 2017.

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Other August MVPs:

Central League:

2B Ryosuke Kikuchi (Hiroshima Carp)

P Yasuhiro "Ryan" Ogawa (Tokyo Yakult Swallows)

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Pacific League:

P Yuki Matsui (Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles)

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Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Report: Seibu Lions reach agreement with Ernesto Mejia to 3-year extension


The Saitama Seibu Lions got their work cut out for them and they got something done for next year. They announced they've reached agreement with Ernesto Mejia for a three year extension on Tuesday.

Mejia, who will turn 31 in December, has been the home run leader on the Lions this season and initially won Pacific League Player of the month for April. He is currently second in the Pacific League in home runs and has been instrumental after having a down season in 2015.

In 2014, Mejia was tied for the Pacific League home run king title with Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura as a midseason signing. If the Lions give Okawari-kun a paycut based on a disappointing 2016 season, Mejia could be the highest paid player on the team in 2017.

Mejia is currently back in the USA with his wife they are expecting their first child, but it's clear both sides got something done before he left. The Lions released the following statement from Mejia:

"First of all, here in Japan I've loved the chance to play baseball, and I am grateful to the Lions who believe me. I couldn't be more happy. I love the Lions, all of our fans who come to support me in the last few years, the director and coaching staff. I would like to thank all of the people involved as well as my teammates and the Lions. I will continue to do my best for myself and the team. Thank you very much."

We mentioned this briefly on a Lions OenDEN podcast episode, expecting Mejia to be paid soon. The Lions have been open about wanting to extend him as early as April. Even after a down season in 2015, they gave him a raise for this year. Most importantly, the Lions backed up their talk and got it done.

There will be plenty of contracts to negotiate this offseason for every player and possibly free agents could walk. If anything, this gets one thing done ahead of time without worry.

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